Cyberloafing – a common behavior
by Erika Root
Employees who use the corporate Internet during working time for personal issues, like using social networks like twitter or facebook, online shopping, sending private e-mails or simply surfing on the Internet, are ‘cyberloafing’.
‘Cyberloafing’ first emerged in the early 21st century, fostered by the introduction of broadband Internet connections at workplaces. Some years ago, common Internet connections were simply to slow to enable the access to the Internet. However, things changed rapidly. Now, a couple of years into the new century, 90% admitted to occupy themselves in non-work-related web surfing, and 84% confirmed to have sent personal e-mails at work (Naughton, Raymond, & Shulman, 1999). So nowadays, ‘cyberloafing’ can be described as a common behavior in our society.
In order to understand the term fully, it is important to explain both segments of the word ‘cyberloafing’. The word “cyber” first appeared in the 1980s, short for cybernetics, the science of communication and automatic control systems in machines and living beings. In 1990s especially younger people used “cyber” as a prefix for popular or “very advanced” things, e.g. cyberpunk or cyberspace. Cyber further refers to something virtual, mostly related to computers, so it is generally associated with the culture of computers and information technology. Referring to ‘cyberloafing’, the prefix cyber underlines the relation to the Internet and the world of computers. The word “Loafing” is most probably based on the German word “Landläufer”, which is a tramp. “Land” [lant] stands for land and “laufen” [laʊfən] for to run, whichas spoken in a dialect “lofen” [lˈo:fən]. Loafing generally means to hang around, to do little work or simply to fritter time away offline.
The issue of ‘loafing at work’ has always been present, however in different forms. Employees would hang around by the coffee machine, gossiping, exchanging notes, reading magazines or taking long lunches for example. The digital revolution simply created a new form of loafing. Metaphorically speaking ‘cyberloafing’ can be explained as a short slacking excursion or just to saunter through the Internet. However, this form of loafing is mostly done individually, without physical effort, or interaction with colleagues.
Related keywords to ‘cyberloafing’ are “cyberslacking” and “goldbricking”. These three words all refer to someone attempting to avoid work. The word “goldbricking” paraphrases the exaggerated form of cyberloafing. The expression originates from the practice of coating gold with worthless metals, so somebody goldbricking fakes work related effort.
Cyberloafing’ can be an unproductive but also a productive attitude. There are findings about the effects of two different cyberloafing activities – simple browsing and non-work-related e-mailing. Browsing through the internet gives employees a temporary escape from work stress. This allows employees to recharge their batteries, which can result in positive effects. E-mailing however is a cognitive endeavor. Employees need their psychological resources to craft the message, which otherwise could be used for work purposes. Researchers show non-work-related e-mailing can be detrimental, whereas internet browsing may actually be a positive activity (Cyberloafing at the workplace: gain or drain on work? Vivien K. G. Lim ; Don J. Q. Chen, Department of Management and Organization, National University of Singapore, Singapore, First published on: 11 November 2009).
Spending time on the internet can refresh employees mentally during their long work (Naughton, K., Raymond, J., & Shulman, K. (1999). Cyberslacking. Newsweek, 134, 62–65). People might do cyberloafing simply out of boredom, stress or after a concluded work step (according to the National University of Singapore). Furthermore, in our fast moving time, many people want to be always online and up-to-date, which leads to employees not only using the internet during their leisure time, but also during working hours. Therefore it is important to state, cyberloafing is able to cause immense financial- and productivity damages for the employers. Results can even be an uncompetitive organization through lower productivity and inefficient work.
In order to cope with this newly arising issue, it is therefore crucial to understand the reasons for this behavior of employees. In our fast-moving time, work and private life tend to melt more and more. For instance, single parenting or working in different time zones, change the importance of availability. Once, clear lines between work and private life become more and more blurred. Some companies even install surveillance software to prevent private Internet activities of employees. On the other side, there are many proxy servers, which can be easily used by the employees to hide their activities on the Internet (For Example: www.hidemyass.com, www.anonymouse.org). Nonetheless, it is important to mention ‘cyberloafing’ can be a reason for dismissal. The topic is highly discussed between the employer and the employee sides, on the internet as well as in print media. However, there a yet no significant studies on the real impact of this new phenomenon named cyberloafing.
Finally, the term ‘cyberloafing’ describes a phenomenon that did arise in the early 21st century. If this term did not exist, we had to describe this occurrence differently. Maybe then people wouldn’t talk about it, and employers would not get informed properly about the extent of cyberloafing. So, especially for management, it is important to be aware of these new issues arising within companies and amongst employees. Some firms, like e.g. Bosch or IG Metall, do even promote this behavior, stating it can have a positive effect on the productivity of employees. So some employers accept a variety of activities in non-working-time, including using the Internet for personal reasons, because of the new cultural norm of always being online.
In conclusion, ‘cyberloafing’ can enrich our daily life to a certain extent, but with the true impacts yet invisible, it leaves a lot of room for further investigations. More in depth research is crucial, in order to cope with this yet unspoken new norm in an appropriate way. Plain surveillance and prohibition will simply miss the positive effects; this newly arising behavior can have, especially for employers.